The federal hate crimes trial of the white men previously convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, whose killing prosecutors will allege was motivated by racism, was sworn in Monday with three Black members.
After the jury was narrowed from a pool of 36 to a main jury of 12, plus four alternates, on Monday morning, US District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood and counsel in the case reviewed the racial makeup of the jury.
The trial was set to begin Monday afternoon with opening statements from prosecutors and defence attorneys for the three defendants.
According to the judge and counsel in court, the main panel consists of eight white jurors, three black jurors, and one Hispanic juror. Three whites and one Pacific Islander make up the alternate jury.
Marcus Arbery, Arbery’s father, said he was “very pleased” outside the courthouse in Brunswick, a port city.
“The diversity of having three Black jurors is encouraging and it’s significant,” Barbara Arnwine, an attorney who represents Arbery’s family, said.
In contrast to this case, the jury in the three defendants’ state murder trial last November was overwhelmingly white, prompting prosecutors’ protests and concerns from Arbery’s family. After defence lawyers presented nonracial reasons for striking most Black jurors from the pool, the state judge allowed the panel to be seated.
Greg and Travis McMichael, father and son, armed themselves and chased Arbery, 25, in a pickup truck after spotting him running through their neighbourhood on Feb. 23, 2020. In his own truck, a neighbour, William “Roddie” Bryan, joined the chase and captured smartphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery with a shotgun. Until the footage was posted online two months later, no arrests were made in the case.
Last month, a court sentenced all three to life in jail after they were found guilty of murder.
Arbery’s civil rights were violated and he was targeted because he was Black, according to the McMichaels and Bryan, who were accused separately in federal court on hate crime charges. In the federal case, the McMichaels and Bryan have all pled not guilty.
The hate crimes trial is expected to run between seven and twelve days, according to the court.
Last week, the court and attorneys questioned over 160 possible jurors about the Black man’s death and their perspectives on racism in America. They were gathered from a 43-county area in eastern and southern Georgia.
In the end, the judge determined that 64 of them were fit to serve. After hearing portions of the state murder trial or news coverage about it, nearly two-thirds of the jury was discharged for having strong feelings about the case.
Before the ultimate jury was chosen on Monday, a random drawing further restricted the field to 36 eligible jurors.
The quest for an unbiased jury in federal court began just a week after counsel indicated that the McMichaels planned to plead guilty in the federal case as part of an agreement with prosecutors that rapidly fell through. Only one or two potential jurors stated they were aware of it, according to the judge.
Defense attorneys contended that the defendants were justified in pursuing Arbery because they feared he had committed crimes in their neighbourhood during the murder trial. Travis McMichael testified that he opened fire in self-defense when Arbery swung his hands at him and snatched his shotgun.